I may have mentioned I have a new hangout: 7 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown L.A.
At 7 a.m., things are quiet, things are low-key. People come a bit early to sit before the Blessed Sacrament in a side chapel. People spread out. The sanctuary has side entrances but I like to walk the whole length of the hall to the left and enter from the rear, where the marble holy water fonts are located.
One morning just before dismissing us, the priest said, "Stay as long as you like. This is your home."
Oh, this IS my home! I thought, and wandered around for a bit, then went and sat before the Blessed Sacrament myself. Of course the Church is no one building; every Catholic church is my home. But that I could leave my earthly home, drive eight minutes, and sit before Christ is a sacred mystery and gift beyond all imagining.
Last Thursday morning I drove down Sunset Boulevard to the cathedral, came up from the parking structure, and emerged into the vast courtyard to see a couple of TV crews outside the gate.
I didn't think much of it, but inside, during the homily, the priest said, "We're going to be reading a lot of articles in the L.A. Times about the priest abuses and cover-ups that are going to be very painful, very uncomfortable. F for us priests. For you. For us, the Church. I think it's in AA, though, that people say, 'You're only as sick as your secrets.' And in a way it's good that this has happened. It's good everything is coming into the light. Yes, it will be painful, but in the end honesty and truth and letting go of our secrets will lead us all toward spiritual health, spiritual truth, spiritual healing."
I thought, Right on, Father.
I thought of my own abysmal track record in this area, as in so many others. I thought of the christening of three children I'd attended a couple of weeks before. I remembered their little heads, offered so heart-breakingly, so almost frighteningly trustingly, over the baptismal font. I thought of how children will pretty much do anything a grownup tells them, their eyes earnest; their hearts bursting to please, to be loved. I thought of the people I've known whose sexual and emotional trust was betrayed at a very young age, and of how they clearly bear that ghastly wound that no human being should have to bear--of loneliness, rage, and exile--into adulthood. I thought of the snow-white baptismal garment, the tiny embroidered blood-red cross.
I thought there is no possible place I could stand with all this but inside the Church. Where else could I stand with the victims, and where else could I stand, yes, with the abusing priests and with the bishops who covered up, because how could I, of all people, point the finger? How could I not stand by them--not by what they did but by them, as erring, deeply sick humans--when the Church has stood by me in my shame, my emotional and spiritual sickness, my sin?
It is one thing to insist, as we must, upon accountability and responsibility. It's one thing to acknowledge that actions have consequences and to allow the priests and bishops the dignity of suffering them, as they must, in solitude and silence. It's another to perch like vultures to lord it over the fallen, to scapegoat and crow, to point the finger at one or a few when obviously the whole Church was at least tacitly complicit. How quickly we so-called followers of Christ distance ourselves from the leper. How little we like to consider our own tawdry track record, our dreadful longings, the people we have preyed upon, used and discarded. How quickly we forget Jesus, standing with the adulteress, saying "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
Where else would I go with my sorrow, my horror, my knowledge of the ways I have been and continue to be complicit in the world's violence but the Church? Where else could I stand with the victims for whom retired Cardinal Mahony was partially responsible but in the cathedral he built? Where else could I stand with Cardinal Mahony?
Who else would I stand with, kneel before, but Christ: as ever scourged, spat upon, mocked, betrayed?
His broken Body, his broken Church.
|bird on top branch and nest,|
tree in cathedral courtyard after Mass